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November 30, 2006

All Wrapped Up For Christmas

All wrapped up

After a long break for the Thanksgiving holiday, I finally got back to the Gypsy. The next step was to install the roofing underlayment. The time-honored material is 30# felt (tar paper), but I did a little looking into the alternatives and ended up selecting a product called TriFlex 30. Its advantages were numerous, but the primary one turned out to be weight. Working on the steeply pitched roof, I would have had an impossible time laying the heavier felt underlayment.

The first run of the TriFlex made me wish that I had four arms and the ability to reach from one end of the roof to the other. I had to sort out a method for getting the 20-foot length tacked at one end, stretched to the other end, and finally nailed along all edges. Once I figured out how to do it with one pair of arms, the remaining runs went on without a hitch.

The Tyvek "housewrap" was much easier. Start at the door, tack in place, then run the roll around the structure. There were some minor issues that arose, again because I lack the extra pair of hands to help, but I've managed to find creative solutions (so far). I left the window openings closed for the moment to keep the weather out.

Next will come the window installation . . .

November 19, 2006

Roof Sheathing Complete

Roof sheathing complete

It almost looks like a house, doesn't it?

Today, Marion and I busted our tails to get the roof sheathed. First, I installed the hurricane ties for the rafters. Next, we framed and sheathed the gable ends. Then, we had to install the rafters that form the overhangs at either end. By the time we got started laying plywood on the roof it was 2 pm.

With three sheets of plywood to go, I was reaching for the nailer that I'd left draped over the peak, suspended by its air hose. I made the mistake of grabbing it at the hose connector. The hose released and the nailer went careening down the roof on the opposite side. I didn't want to look at what happened to it. I waited for Marion to tell me that it had been destroyed in the fall. As luck would have it, though, the pitch of the roof sent the nailer beyond the edge of the pavement, and it landed in a pile of wet leaves. Phew!

The day's work complete, I picked up my tools using the headlights of the truck. Another full day, but we now have a cover overhead. I still have to trim the plywood to the eaves, but that will have to wait, along with covering the sheathing with 30# felt and metal roofing. Let's hope that the weather stays dry. (Fat chance, right?)

November 18, 2006

Rafters In Place

Ridge beam on truck

The ridge beam looked like it was carrying the truck, rather than the other way around. Once it was cut to length, I put it back on the rack and used the truck bed to gain a bit more height while Marion and I put the beam in place this morning.

Balance beam

Once the ridge was in place, I began the balancing act on the side walls. [An admonishment echoes from below: "We need you here in the rafters not in the hereafter!] Working alone has its scary parts. Today, there was the worry that I could fall from the roof and no one would know. Marion asked that I call her occasionally at work to put her mind at ease.

At midday, a retired builder from down the road stopped by out of curiosity. He commented, "You're really over-building this thing, aren't you?"

Perhaps, but remember, it's got to withstand hurricane force winds while going down the highway! I'll accept the extra weight to know that Gypsy Rose will hold together.

Rafters complete

By the end of the afternoon, the rafters were in place and I hadn't taken a fall. Note that the cedar posts that support the loft above the porch went in today as well. Gypsy Rose is starting to take her final shape.

November 17, 2006

Thirteen-Feet Six Inches

First rafters

In order to travel down the highway without special permits, a vehicle cannot exceed eight-feet six inches wide or thirteen-feet six inches tall. Those dimensions will be the final width and height of Gypsy Rose. With that in mind, I had a bit of "figuring" to do today before I could put up the first rafters. Given that every inch will count in the sleeping loft, I wanted to be sure that the peak (including sheathing, metal roofing, and metal ridge) was right at the maximum height.

To facilitate the layout, I used the subfloor as a full-scale drawing board. I drew up a pattern on which I was able to lay out the rafters exactly as they'd be positioned on the top plates. I tied them together with 2x4's that will be removed once the ceiling joists are installed (acting as collar ties). Finally, I'd climb the ladder with the triangle and drop it in place over the top plates and nail it down.

By the middle of the afternoon, I had three pairs of rafters in place and it was off to the lumber yard to pick a 24-foot 2x8 for the ridge. In the morning, I'll get some help from Marion to put the ridge in place and then complete the rafters.


November 16, 2006

Teach Your Children Well

As I watch my children grow, I cannot help but wonder how they will look back on me years from now. What will they think of this man they call "Daddy"? Will they understand my path? How will it influence the path that they choose?

There are lessons that my father taught me that I'll never forget. He'd often say to me, "Every morning, when I look at myself in the mirror, I have to like the person that I see."

My Dad taught me about respecting and remaining faithful to my inner truth. If there is one lesson I'd like to teach my children, that is the one that rises to the top.


In large part, my life aboard Raven, as well as the Gypsy Rose project, are about remaining faithful to the values that I hold dear. While I may hope that my children grow up with similar values, I have to accept the fact that their values may be quite different from mine. I can only hope that they, too, can keep that inner truth in full view, reflected in the mirror each morning. If they love the person that they see, I will consider myself a successful parent, indeed.

David doing homework

November 13, 2006

Have I Truly Gone Mad?


Gypsy Rose 

There is only one success—to be able
to spend your own life in your own way.

-Christopher Morley

I have never been one to adhere to trends. To a large degree, my concerns for the overall health of the planet have led me down a different path than the one followed by those who make choices based on what's currently popular.

Among the more disturbing trends in our consumer-oriented society is the growth of the family home - a trend that has brought us the "McMansion". Since 1950, the average size of a new home being built in this country has more than doubled, while at the same time, the average size of the family has fallen by over 25 percent. What that means is that, in just over 50 years, the number of square feet per person in an average American home has more than tripled. And remember, that's on average. When looking at the McMansion end of the spectrum, those numbers become even more astounding.

Now, consider this. A McMansion can require the cutting of 600 trees to provide enough lumber to build. To make matters worse, all those enormous, complicated rooflines and other features that are designed to enhance "curb appeal", can mean that up to 50 percent of the lumber is used to enclose unusable space. No thank you.

I wanted to build something different, at a much smaller scale. After starting the Gypsy Rose project, my research led me to the many, many others who are thinking the same thoughts. For those who may be looking at this tiny dwelling (the one shown above - not the one below) and wondering, “What the . . .?”, I’ve put together a few links that may help others to understand the path I’m on.

First, a look at what I am NOT building:

National Public Radio presented an interesting look at the trend in American homes during a segment of its "All Things Considered" program last July. Follow the link below to read (or listen to) the story.

Behind the Ever-Expanding American Dream House - NPR, All Things Considered, July 4, 2006


The Case for Small:

Even the incorporation of environmentally friendly method, material, or technology cannot make the McMansion a "green" home. By virtue of size alone, a 4,000 square foot home can never be "green". If one wants to truly reduce the ecological footprint of a dwelling, reducing its size is the primary prerequisite.

Shrinking Down The House (Time Magazine)

Move Over McMansions, Microhouses Are On The Rise (Wall Street Journal)

The Small House Society

The Katrina Cottage

Green Shelters

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses


November 11, 2006

A Long Day But the Walls Are Enclosed

Sheathing going on

We were up at first light and working by seven. Rain is in the offing, so we wanted to make the best of the day. The weather was unseasonalbly warm (again) and I was down to a T-shirt before stopping for breakfast.

Drawing the fender radius

 The sheathing took longer than I'd expected, with the extra time going to fender radii, cutouts for frame bolts, cutouts for the tongue, etc.

Gypsy Rose smiles

 Gypsy Rose smiles in her new skin at the end of the day.

Sheathing complete

By the time we finished sheathing darkness had fallen. Nearly 12 hours after the day began, we had the tools put away and a tarp over the project in preparation for the rain that is predicted for the next couple days. Time for martinis and take-out Chinese . . .

November 10, 2006

Raising the Walls

Raising the walls

 Hurrying against the weather (with rain forecast for Sunday and Monday), I'd set a goal of having the first floor walls framed by the end of the afternoon. That was ambitious as I am working alone for the most part. Fortunately, the walls were ready to stand up by noon, Perfect timing for Marion and sister Suzi to take a lunch break, pick up deli sandwiches for lunch, and drive what would normally be a 20 minute drive to help me out.

The drive got complicated, though, when Marion discovered a large spring penetrating her right rear tire. Back to the office they drove, borrowed a co-worker's car and finally arrived to give me 30 minutes of time that was crucial for getting the walls up.

Walls framed

 The day's goal accomplished! First floor walls up and ready for sheathing.

First sit on the porch

When Marion arrived home at the end of the day we took a moment to sit on the front porch for the first time and take in the sunset.

My achin' back! I need to get in shape for this sort of stuff.

November 09, 2006

Framing the First Wall

Wednesday brought heavy rain to southern New England - inches of it. Today, the sun returned and temperatures rose to the upper 60's. The only down side is that the days are so short this time of year and the workday comes to a close at 4:30.

 Framing first wall

The walls for Gypsy Rose are pretty straightforward, with the exception of the fender openings.

Nailing frame

I tend to shun the modern "engineered" building materials (using epoxies, plastics, etc.), but I am completely sold on pneumatic nailers. Perhaps it's because I've never been completely comfortable toenailing studs while keeping perfect alignment. Or, perhaps it's because my right elbow has been failing me in recent years and swinging a hammer has become increasingly painful. I can come up with all sorts of reasons why I love my framing nailer!

First wall complete

Here, the first wall is complete and ready to be set aside so I can begin on the second. My hope is to have the walls framed and sheathed by the end of the day on Friday (tomorrow) and have the rafters and ceiling joists in place by the end of the weekend.


November 07, 2006

Building the subfloor

I spent the first few hours of the morning running to the lumber yard to return the remaining bad boards and picking up the 3/4" plywood that I needed for the subfloor.

 Lumber pile

With a stack of good, straight lumber, I was ready to finish the floor joists and install the subfloor.

Completed subfloor

Just as I put the last nail in the plywood, the raindrops began to fall. The forecast is for heavy rain tonight and into tomorrow. The spell of good weather is temporarily over.

November 06, 2006

Lesson Learned: Pick Your Own Lumber

Ready for the day 

I've done a fair amount of building over the years. For each of my projects, I've always gone to the lumber yard and picked my own lumber. For the Gypsy Rose project, I needed a 24 foot 2x8 for the gable ridge. The local lumber yard advertises free delivery on orders of $100 or more. I decided to have the framing lumber all delivered with the long 2x8.

Bad lumber

The lumber delivery truck pulled into the driveway at 9:30 this morning. I was raring to get started and could hardly wait to get the wood off the truck. One look, however, and I knew that the day wasn't going to go as planned. Ragged, barked edges were visible throughout the entire stack of lumber (Douglas Fir). I told the driver that much of it was not acceptable. He stared at me blankly and told me to call the lumber yard. No help there.

I was ready to help him off-load the lumber, but, to my amazement, the driver went to the cab, engaged the hydraulic lift for the bed of the truck, and I waited to see the whole load come flying off the back. As soon as it started to slide, the driver popped the clutch, accelerated forward, and the bundles crashed to the pavement. 

That may be standard practice at a construction site, but it did not meet my standard for lumber handling. Mouth agape, I took a moment to regroup and before starting to pick through the pile and sort out the pieces that would need to be returned. (Meanwhile, the truck drove off carrying only the 24' 2x8 I'd rejected and the five sheets of OSB (oriented strand board) they'd sold me instead of the plywood subflooring I'd asked for. (Another story there, but suffice it to say that I'm not a fan of "engineered boards", especially when used as a subfloor for the hardwood finished floor - nails don't hold as well in OSB as in plywood. Advantech has its fans, but I'm not one of them.)

Much of the day was spent making trips to the lumber yard to exchange the sub-standard boards that had been delivered. Of the six dozen 2x4 studs I'd bought, I had to exchange nearly half of them. I exchanged all of the 10' 2x4's and every one of the 16' 2x4's. I'll make one more trip to the lumber yard in the morning to bring back seven of the twenty 16' 2x6's that I'd needed for the ceiling joists and rafters. So much for free delivery. I'll rig up an extended support for the 24-footer on my truck and, in the end, insure that the roof on Gypsy Rose runs true by selecting my own lumber, thank you very much!

November 05, 2006

An Idea is Born

Conceptual rendering

Gypsy Rose was born of necessity. I (Kevin) live on a boat (Raven) on Lake Champlain from April through November. Marion recently bought land in Tunbridge, Vermont. While I was exploring options for a winter residence in Burlington (Raven is "on the hard" from mid-November through the beginning of April), Marion knew she needed a temporary summer home in Tunbridge until she decides how to eventually build a permanent home on her land.

Last winter, I was mulling over the options while on a long drive through Vermont. It came to me. I called Marion and suggested, "Why don't we build a home on wheels! We can share it. I can use it during the winter months in Burlington and you can use it during the summer months in Tunbridge."

An idea was born! Marion loved it and we immediately started working through concepts and ultimately drew up plans for the new home. "Gypsy Rose," we'll call her.

At the Drawing Board

Lots of research and lots of bouncing ideas eventually led to a concept for a traditionally "stick built" home on wheels. Life aboard Raven has given me a good understanding of independent, low impact living. Like the boat, Gypsy Rose will be self contained and off the grid - using many systems that were developed for marine applications. She will operate primarily on 12V electrical systems whose batteries will ultimately be charged by solar or small-scale hydro (with a generator backup). Propane will power the stove, the refrigerator, the furnace, and the on-demand hot water heater. A composting toilet will handle the waste.

From the Drawing Board to the Driveway

At first I had thought I'd build Gypsy Rose on a stock construction trailer base, but ultimately I went to Bob Schumacher at Outdoor Recreational Supply (Shelburne, Vermont) and asked if he could build me a custom trailer frame that we could use as a base. Bob's engineering mind immediately went to work on the design and the frame was welded up and ready by the end of October.

Frame Delivered

Lights, camera . . . ready to roll down the highway to Marion's home in Connecticut where the building will begin.

Blocked and level

Blocked up and level in the driveway, and we were ready to begin construction on Saturday, November 4th.

 Bolting nailers

From the base plate up, the structure is traditional wood-frame construction, but integrating the floor joist system with the steel frame of the trailer was all new territory. We tried to work out as many of the details as we could during the design phase, but once construction began we knew that there would be the unforeseen that would have to be accommodated as the project progressed.

Many half-inch holes were drilled through the frame to attach "nailers", which were bolted to the steel frame members. From the nailers, the floor joists were hung.

First joist installed

Joists nearly complete

By the end of the second day of building, the floor joists were nearly complete.